Asia Scope

Souvenir Ethics out of Asia

China’s 60th anniversary has come and gone. And surely, those who made their way out to take part in the main festivities have gone home with some precious memories. And the thought that some may have left with souvenirs marking the event reminded me of the fake commemorative coins that caused a ripple of a scandal back in August.

Supposedly issued by the People’s Bank of China, the set of 6 coins was being sold for about $80 US; the Chinese government promptly issued a public warning about the scam. But if the buyer remains unaware, does it really matter?

Ethical ‘souvenir-ing’ is still something to think about in Asia. Besides the most obvious—unethical purchasing of illegal exotic animal parts—there are many other cases where a well-meant or innocent purchase could have dark or complicated issues connected.

Activists at the summer Beijing Olympics urged visitors to avoid buying jewelry and souvenirs made of Burmese ‘blood Jade,’ claiming that, ‘the military-controlled industry is plagued with deplorable working conditions…HIV/AIDS epidemic, and environmental destruction.’ (Article: ‘BURMA/CHINA: Avoid ‘Blood Jade’ Olympic Souvenirs – Activists’) Another recent article mentions Burmese Jade as an industry that utilizes child labor. (AFP: ‘Porn, fireworks, diamonds made with child labor: US’)

In Cambodia, there has reportedly been a trend of collecting old landmines as souvenirs. Apparently locals and visitors alike, including humanitarian workers, take and display parts of mines in their homes and offices. They can also be used as ashtrays, paperweights and doorstops. Also, official landmine zone warning signs and images (depicting a skull and bones) are now often used to decorate anything from office walls to t-shirts. This is clearly worrisome on a number of levels.

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And there are other ethical issues to be considered in Asia, such as the sale of war-themed paraphernalia in Vietnam, that I’ll discuss in a future post.